By Vanessa Adams
Therapists of all sorts know that art should not be overlooked as an effective form of therapy for seniors. Whether the goal is to improve mental focus, strengthen hand muscles or lessen feelings of anxiety and depression, art therapy is an incredible solution that’s generally well-received by older adults. (Because who doesn’t love arts and crafts?) The activity is appropriate in a range of environments, including senior living facilities, mental health offices and even clinical environments, like physical therapy centers.
Research has found that art therapy is an effective treatment for a number of ailments in older adults, helping them cope with anxiety and depression that can occur as a result of chronic disease. Though more research is needed, there’s even some evidence to suggest that these kinds of therapies can be beneficial when treating seniors with Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s disease. The experts say that, when creating art, older adults can enjoy feelings of relaxation, control, socialization, improved cognition, sensory stimulation and improved self-esteem.
While the overall field is promising, not all forms of art therapy are appropriate for seniors, especially those with arthritis and mobility issues, so caution should be exercised when selecting an activity. Here are some of the best art therapies for seniors, even those who struggle with mobility and chronic pain.
- Pottery—Pottery is perfect for seniors because it doesn’t require any challenging tools or hard-to-manipulate mediums. In fact, clay is one of the most forgiving and easy-to-work-with materials out there, even for those with stiff, achy hands. It allows seniors to gently build up hand muscles without agitating any existing pain. At the same time, the act of throwing a pot or bowl is extremely meditative and relaxing, so it’s perfect for helping those with anxiety, stress and depression.
- Diamond Art Painting—You may think that anything involving small gemstones would be off-limits to seniors who have arthritis or other conditions that cause shakiness, but that’s not the case! With a diamond art kit, you create dazzling works of art using an easy-to-grip applicator and sticky wax. This is an extremely approachable, relaxing activity that caters to a crowd, even those who don’t consider themselves “artistic.” Plus, there are tons of diamond art designs available, so participants can make something that speaks to them.
- Group Painting—We’ve all seen those popular paint-and-sip classes popping up around town, and—wine or no wine—they are perfect for older adults! Typically, these classes follow a similar format, where an artist guides a group of participants through the process of painting the same picture. This activity is ideal for seniors because it takes art and makes it social, and seniors are particularly susceptible to depression caused by loneliness. The activity can bring joy not only through creating art but also through making strong connections with others.
- Felt Ornaments—Like clay, felt is a soft, forgiving material that’s wonderful even for people who may have low muscle strength and motor skills in the hands. Creating a felt-based craft, such as a Christmas ornament, can help introduce older adults to this excellent form of crafting. Interestingly, needle and wool felting has been used as a therapy to help those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, offering an excellent way to help seniors settle into a state of calm focus.
- Collage—Collage art is an awesome way to help senior citizens express themselves—their worries, goals, likes and dislikes—in a non-verbal way. Perfect for mental health therapists seeking interventions that help seniors self-express or explore inner thoughts, cutting and pasting photos and words can leave participants with a visual representation of how they feel inside. The physical act of compiling the artwork is therapeutic both physically and mentally, too.
- Beaded Jewelry—Beading and jewelry-making are often considered crafts for those with steady, strong hands, but there are some great ways to make this activity approachable to seniors, too. Invite them to create a beaded eyeglass chain or necklace using large, easy-to-grip beads with large holes that are easy to see, even by those with poor eyesight. Remember to select easy-open clasps so that participants are actually able to use what they create themselves when they’re done.
- Pressed Flowers—If you have a group of senior citizens who loves to garden and explore the outdoors, they’ll like creating pressed flowers to enjoy in the fall and winter. The process of pressing flowers starts by gathering flowers (or bringing in flower petals), so you could start with a meander through the garden if the weather is nice. Pressing flowers is easy, too. The process just requires you to place flowers inside heavy books lined with parchment paper and waiting a week or so until they’re fully dried and pressed. The final result is pretty, colorful dried flowers that can be used to adorn cards, ornaments and other pretty crafts.
- Card Making—Given that many seniors used snail mail as their primary form of communication throughout their lives, they tend to appreciate cards and stationery more than the rest of us! So they’ll definitely be excited to make their own greeting cards using craft paper, stamps, glitter and—if you want to take it up a notch or two—a home letterpress or home die-cutting machine such as a Cricut. This is a great activity to do around the holidays and it’s always well-received since it allows seniors to share their artwork with friends and family in a special way.
Creating a Positive Environment for Seniors
Regardless of which activity you choose, it’s important that you create a comfortable, open environment for any art therapy. The idea is to help participants settle into a relaxed state where self-expression comes easy, so try to avoid any activity, equipment or setting that may be alienating or intimidating. No matter their age, when participants feel comfortable and settled in, they always create amazing things–and that can be great for their overall health and wellness!
Vanessa Adams serves as the marketing coordinator for Diamond Art Club, which offers the highest quality diamond art kits on the market. She oversees all content creation from their West Hollywood, California Headquarters. In her spare time, she enjoys true-crime podcasts and pilates.